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Body found in Mississippi River identified as missing Iowa teen 46 years later

A Missouri cold case that puzzled investigators for nearly half a century has been partially solved.

Investigators have identified a body floating in the Mississippi River in 1978 as Helen Renee Groomes, a 15-year-old girl from Ottumwa, Iowa.

Groomes disappeared on her 15th birthday in October 1977 and was never seen again.

“I’m just overwhelmed with joy that we found my sister and [are] able to bring her home and know where she’s at,” the victim’s brother, Kevin Groomes, told Kansas City NBC affiliate KSDK.

A hunter spotted her body in the Mississippi River in March 1978 near Elsberry, Mo. Local authorities investigated the case but made little progress. An autopsy determined that Groomes had died by drowning, but her manner of death was undetermined. The coroner also incorrectly estimated that she was between 30-40 years old when she died.

She was buried in the city cemetery in Troy, Mo. as “Lincoln County Jane Doe.” There she remained until November 2023, when her remains were exhumed by the county coroner.

Anthropology students at Southeast Missouri State University, led by professor Jennifer Bengston, examined the body. They quickly determined the victim was a teenager when she died and identified potential DNA samples for testing.

The SEMO students sent the samples to Othram, a forensic genealogy company based in Texas. Othram scientists created a full DNA profile and led the coroner’s office to Kevin Groomes, whose DNA confirmed Helen’s identity.

The Groomes family believes Helen’s stepfather killed her. The stepfather has since died.

“He was a bad person, beat my sister, beat the kids,” Groomes’ uncle Roger Castle, told KSDK. “On his death bed, he confessed to his daughter that he killed her. Even my sister, she knew, from what I understand from stories. He’d beat her so bad too and the other kids that they were scared to death. Evil walks the planet, but no more, not him anyway.”


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